Even his worst critics will not accuse Modi of not having tried hard; some say he works for over 18 hours a day. And yet, from the aam aadmi to the captains of industry, most are dissatisfied with the quality and speed of change. While we could quibble about his vision or strategy, there is a bigger concern.
If someone like Modi has not been able to re-energize the system, is there really hope for any sort of radical change?
The ubiquitous ‘system’ created by the British to perpetuate their rule has stood its ground unchanged for over 70 years. The need for control, the love of process and disdain for result, the titles and the acronyms, the formality and the language and even the same green paper with a vertical margin.
During this period, the world outside has transformed many times over. Such is the level of integration today that deficient rainfall in Latin America can raise inflation in India, a profligate Greece can sink Europe and a humble consumer has the power to destroy a major global brand. This has introduced unprecedented complexity into decision-making often involving new stake-holders who would not even have existed a few years ago.
So that is what it is, a completely static system attempting to negotiate a rapidly changing environment. The result is a paralysis in decision-making often with utter disregard for the big picture. The challenge lies in finding a structural and systemic solution to end this mismatch.
The problem is not unique to governments. Large global corporations, often with budgets bigger than those of many countries face the same problem. How do they tackle it? Is there a lesson to be learnt?
Across the world, traditional, silo-based structures are being replaced with multi-discipline, geography independent, virtual or real teams. Cross reporting and multiple reporting, once seen as anathema to good management are now seen to be desirable. As are team goals and team assessment. Forcing individuals to get rid of their ‘not invented here’ thinking and focus less on ego and more on the common objective.
While corporate best practices recommend creating multi-disciplinary teams around strategic objectives, governments traditionally do exactly the opposite. They disaggregate accountability. So one person is tasked to buy marble, another to do the carving and a third to complete the structure. But no one person is accountable for building the Taj.
The PM launches Swachh Bharat.
The list of stakeholders includes state governments, municipalities, finance ministries, procurement agencies and urban and rural development ministries across 30 states. In some states there could be the need for new investments in technology or simply the need for space to create landfills etc. Each issue creates a new set of stake holders both at the center and the states.
The PM launches ‘Make in India.
Once the land is acquired, those uprooted have to be rehabilitated. Some have to be provided jobs. This would involve the local state governments and the Rural Development ministry at the center. Then the highways and roads have to be built. And provision of power, water and band-width for which even the private sector may need to be involved. The chain of departments and officials that are involved is endless.
Likewise the ‘Digital India’ program.
When analyzed, simple slogans and rallying call by the PM start looking like a mammoth PERT exercises with ramifications across thousands of touch-points across the country. None of these are simple linear programs that can be handed over to any single ministry.
So when responsibilities are so fragmented, who exactly is accountable for success or failure? Unfortunately no one. And thereby hangs a tale.
Swachh Bharat, Digital India and Make in India are smart, strategic and sophisticated concepts. They recognize the need for a government to deliver solutions beyond infrastructure. This is a huge leap forward. The government is acknowledging that its job is to provide education and not schools, cleanliness and not just garbage bins. And so on.
In a federal structure where last mile delivery of services may depend on various elected or unelected bodies, the Prime Minister’s willingness to stick his neck out and make the promise is a great beginning for which he must be commended.
The problem, however, is that the PM himself has not realized how much of a game-changer these ideas are. They were born as slogans and will probably die as such. Because the PM is attempting to use the same tired, existing infrastructure to implement it. A sure recipe for failure. And therein lies the challenge.
The government needs to devise a new delivery mechanism which can cut through the sloth of officialdom and ensure effective quality implementation for these initiatives to deliver results.
So is an alternative possible? Yes, but it requires a commitment to first break the egg before attempting the omelette.
First, divide the business of governance into two levels, the Missions and the Ministries.
The Missions, as the name suggests, are the ideals that the government is committed to delivering. What Directive Principles are to the country, the Missions are to the government. They will always be a reflection of a government’s commitments. For instance, if the government believes that the need is jobs, a ‘Jobs for All’ Mission will work on it, dovetailing efforts of the Industries, Commerce, Telecom and Finance or other ministries which can influence job creation. Likewise ‘Swachh Bharat, ‘Make in India’ and ‘Digital India.’
On the other hand the Ministries are the enablers. They work, pretty much as they are doing now, to ensure that the dreams enunciated by the Missions are met.
Second, acknowledge that for any initiative to be successful, there must be someone who ‘owns’ it and whose personal success or failure is linked with it.
Such a person must not just be titular head but must also have the authority to take appropriate decisions in pursuance of the Mission. And so will need to be of a level above other Cabinet Ministers. But whatever his or her titular seniority, the PM must ensure that his de facto status
is higher than other Ministers. If it is seen as a mere coordination job, the entire purpose is defeated.
Third, for the purpose of the Mission, officials across ministries and departments concerned with execution of the Mission will dual-report to both their own ministries as well as the Mission Owner.
Job profile of the Mission Owner?
He or she needs to convert the government’s vision into a series of actionable points, assess the opportunities, possibilities and the constraints, set targets, provide monetary and technical support where needed, create a delivery system that does not fall between the tracks and co-opt his team from various concerned ministries and departments.
Not every ministers can hope to be a Mission Owner one day. Only the ones who have significant project implementation experience. Since the role requires the power of persuasion the typical Mission Owner should ideally be well networked across parties. And since the job requires intensive travel across states to review performance and share feedback, the Mission Owner must be young and energetic. In the current government only Suresh
Prabhu and Parrikar would fit the bill. If he hadn’t been involved in various scandals, Gadkari would also have qualified
The Mission Owner will typically have a small team mainly for the planning and oversight functions. The intention would be to have him work with existing resources rather than hiring new set of people. And therefore he or she will be dependent on people chosen by him from the concerned ministries.
Should the Mission Owners be part of the PMO? Ideally yes. But if they are made a part of the PMO, there would be far too much of an outcry about centralization of power and that may derail the entire process. So it is best the Mission Owners are not integrated into the PMO. But yes, they must work very closely with the PMO.
And what would they be called? Maybe simply Senior Ministers with Cabinet rank.
Though I am tempted to suggest Jan Sevaks. If the PM is Pratham Sevak, then people engaged in providing solutions to the people should be called Jan Sevaks.
But the nomenclature is unimportant. The fact that the government has chosen to take an additional step forward is.